Stupid is as Stupid Does: Cambridge PD Attorney Doubles Down on Acting Stupidly

(Finally, a post about something important! ;-) - promoted by David)

I suspect everyone is getting sick of this and Bob, David, and others are well covering the notable press conference by the assorted Cambridge Police unions and their assorted lawyers, but there was one moment that really deserves extra attention and demands to be corrected.  I’ll try to stay focused…towards the end, Alan McDonald, lawyer for one of the unions, was chastising President Obama for putting this event, and people’s reaction to it, in the context of a history of maltreatment by minorities at the hands of law enforcement.  Attorney McDonald stated that while a history like that “was true in some localities, it isn’t true in Cambridge” and continued that it was “inappropriate” for the President to draw such a connection.

While much about this event is open to debate, a very quick search of old newspaper article reveals that on the question of race and the Cambridge PD, Attorney McDonald is either woefully uninformed or lying.

One truly bizarre happening immediately jumps out of the archives.  Less than ten years ago, Cambridge PD was actually teaching it’s recruits that people who like spicy foods, like Mexicans, or handle a lot of produce, like Mexicans, have an increased tolerance for pepper spray.  Sorry, THIS IS NOT A JOKE, from the Globe, August 13 1999:

CAMBRIDGE — Many doctors and law enforcement specialists say it sounds crazy. Nonetheless, police here assert that they instruct their officers that a potent anticrime weapon, pepper spray, is less effective against Mexican-Americans, Cajuns, and other ethnic groups, because of their fondness for spicy foods.


Without supporting scientific data, Cambridge officers are instructed that some minority group members and individuals who are exposed at an early age to hot peppers, either in diet or in the fields or in food processing plants, develop a tolerance to pepper spray, which is used by police to temporarily incapacitate belligerents.  

Frank Pasquarello, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police, said he saw nothing wrong with presenting such information, which he said was discussed by a Cambridge Police Department instructor at annual training sessions at the Cambridge Police Academy in a professional, uninflammatory manner.

The training programs are taught by Cambridge Police Officer Frank Gutoski.

Gutoski, who could not be reached by the Globe, told the weekly that people who worked in produce departments, processing plants, or who handled cayenne peppers regularly were less susceptible to the effects of pepper spray.

This really is almost funny, and I say almost because it wouldn’t be funny if you were a random Hispanic (or Cajun or Greek) person getting a triple dose of pepper spray, because the Cambridge PD officer had been taught one would not have the usual effect.  Moving on….

What’s definitely not funny is an actual pattern (not just one isolated incident) of minority police officers getting the letters KKK scrawled across their lockers.  From the Globe July 29, 1982:

The internal affairs unit of the Cambridge Police Department is trying to find out who painted the letters “KKK” on the lockers of black policemen in the Central Square station.

The incident, which occurred July 1, involved the lockers of five black patrolmen and one detective of Portuguese descent, a police spokesman said.

The lockers have numbers on them but no names, indicating the person who painted the racial epithets knew whose lockers they were.

And from the Globe August 3, 1982:

A group of black Cambridge policemen, saying they were not satisfied with the progress of a departmental investigation into a racial incident at the police station, called yesterday for an independent investigation.

The group, the Cambridge Afro-American Police Assn., called a press conference a month after someone painted the letters “KKK” on the lockers of five patrolmen, four of them black, in the Central Square station.

Also at yesterday’s conference were two representatives from the US Justice Department’s Community Relations Service. They said at this point they were expressing interest in the incident and had not yet taken any formal action.

Henry Owens, a Cambridge lawyer representing the black policemen, spoke for the group saying, “A crime has been committed and over 30 days have gone by and nothing has been done about it.”

Owens said the black policemen feel they have no say in the administration or the policies of the department. He pointed out that in a department of more than 250 members there are no black captains or lieutenants and only three out of 30 sergeants.

Edward McClure of the Justice Department said his unit had become involved because of possible Ku Klux Klan activities. He said no action was being taken at the moment but if any group asked the US Attorney to investigate the matter he would be “receptive” to such a request.

Last week, Capt. Cusack said he did not believe there was serious racial problems in the department and a spokesman said he believed the locker painting was a prank.

Prank?!?  Seriously?  That “prank” is so funny that someone else pulled the same classic ten years later.  The Cambridge PD locker room is/was just chock full of jokesters, from the Globe March 8, 1990:

Two Cambridge police officers have filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination charging that city officials and the chief of police discriminated against them because they are black.

The officers also maintain they have been called derogatory names and that their authority has been countermanded and challenged by white officers. One complaint states that the initials of the Ku Klux Klan were painted on lockers assigned to black officers.

Another 1990 Globe article details the settlement of federal civil rights suit filed by 5 minority officers, and provided probably the most disturbing detail yet in this short history of the Cambridge PD and race.  From the Globe May 31, 1990:

A settlement of a $15 million bias suit brought against the Cambridge Police Department by black officers has led to the establishment of a police-civilian committee, described as unprecedented in Massachusetts, for improving race relations among officers and between police and residents.

Antidiscrimination activists yesterday hailed the settlement as a creative, progressive response to longstanding complaints from black officers. It provides $23,500 in compensation to two Cambridge officers, one of whom will receive tuition money for advanced law-enforcement classes and counseling to help her advance her career. It also mandates new antibias policies.

The suit, brought 2 1/2 years ago by five officers and the Cambridge Afro-American Police Association, clashed with the image community leaders hold of the city as a model for tolerance and diversity.

The black officers charged they were denied career advancement opportunities and disciplined more harshly than white officers as part of a pattern of racial discrimination within the department. About one-sixth of Cambridge’s 300 police officers are minorities.

Kathleen Allen, a commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, expressed guarded optimism. “If it can work in Cambridge, we can certainly look at whether it can work in other places,” she said.

But Allen noted that the Cambridge Police Department has been the subject of complaints about bigotry since the 1970s. They include an account of a 1975 event, which officials have denied, in which a white officer allegedly dressed in a Ku Klux Klan white robe with his gunbelt visible and, flanked by other white officers, confronted minority recruits entering the station house.

In 2000 there was actually a public hearing in Cambridge where dozens of citizens aired their experiences with, what they thought was, racial profiling by the Cambridge PD.  Interestingly for the Gates-Crowley incident, the charge of disorderly conduct factored into the discussion at the hearing.  Again thanks to the Globe Oct 22, 2000:

Sporting a cowboy hat and leather jacket, Delanot Bastien, the co-owner of a Somerville real-estate company, was shopping in the Bread & Circus store in Fresh Pond one evening last March when he noticed a Cambridge police officer following him.

The officer, working on a pay-detail for the store, stopped Bastien as he left the store. According to Bastien, the officer told him he looked suspicious.

“He confronted me in a demeaning manner,” Bastien said in a complaint he filed with the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory Board. “I had the distinct impression that he was singling me out, that I was the target of `racial profiling.’”

Residents spoke of being stopped and questioned by police while walking down a street or driving a car. Several said they had been arrested as a result. Nearly all spoke of the indignities of being stopped, they believed, because of their skin color. Generally, they stressed that their stories were not an indictment of the police department as a whole, but of several individuals on the force.

In particular, they noted that police targeted groups of young black men.

“You are harassed for no reason. It is still the case today,” said John Youte, a youth worker employed by the city.

He and others talked about the white youth who congregate in the so-called pit area near the Harvard Square MBTA station. Young blacks, several said, would be told to disperse.

“I say, `Heaven help you if you have teenagers who are young
black men, because at some point you are going to have to deal with this,’” said Valerie Conward after the meeting. Conward’s 18-year-old son was among several young people who were arrested during an altercation last year at the Jefferson Park housing complex in North Cambridge.

Police were called to investigate a domestic violence complaint at the complex. Residents said police overreacted as a crowd developed. Residents said officers yelled at 20 to 30 young people who lived in the complex, telling them to disperse and go home. Police officers said the youth “swarmed” them.

Conward’s son and two others were charged with disorderly conduct but were found not guilty during a four-day trial in July.

Youte also described an incident three years ago when he was walking down Prospect Street on his way to wash clothes at a laundromat. He was stopped by a police officer who wanted to know where he was going and what was in the bag he was carrying over his shoulder.

I could go on…but I think it is at least clear that Cambridge PD has not been an historical oasis of racial harmony up until this incident, whatever this incident was.  Attorney McDonald should apologize and Cambridge PD unions should get a smarter lawyer, or maybe just a more honest one.  If your lawyer is going to assert a clean historical record on race relations (while calling out the President of the United States), it really better be true.  Otherwise, oops, you’ve just opened the door to correcting that falsehood and introducing into the conversation all kind of things that you don’t want to be talking about and maybe even have little or nothing to do with today’s Cambridge PD.  Attorney McDonald was the first person I’ve seen to publicly bring the historical record of the Cambridge PD and race into this, it’s unlikely he’ll be the last.  

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18 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. All right, everybody, let's cool off.

    Derrick Z. Jackson, a resident of Cambridge, had a great editorial in the Boston Globe today. As a resident, I think he's got a point to make.  It's a beautiful piece, because it acknowledges the terrible history of police treatment of African American men...while also making it clear that Cambridge is not a "corrupted city of rogues and monsters," having once covered police brutality in New York.  

    http://www.boston.com/bostongl...

    From Mr. Jackson:

    Based on my experience, the Cambridge police, precisely because of the town's progressive politics, are noteworthy in not arresting or not incarcerating unless necessary.  In one incident, when I called them to break up teen rowdiness in a neighbor's home, they calmly gave the youth a chance to come out.  it all ended with IDs taken, party ended and no arrests

    My rap: I love Cambridge; my dad was born there and my family owned a home on Orchard Street for decades.  It's a wonderful, welcoming community and I am a little disturbed by the lengths to which people are willing to go to liken it to the home town of Bull Connors.  Cambridge isn't perfect, but twenty years of opposition research on any community is going to give you some issues.  

    So, enough already.  This dawg's been beaten to death and it's not helping. The principle parties have agreed to meet, the president has tempered his own response and God willing, we're going to get through this.  May this be the real first step to post-racial America.  

    • excellent op-ed

      this is very true:

      Perhaps the next PBS special produced by Gates should be of him and Crowley discussing how it all went wrong. That might help the rest of us get it all right.
    • Only one group wants to $quot;cool off$quot;

      Of course "we're going to get through this".

      When I hear the residents of ... say ... East Cambridge or Cambridgeport asking that we "cool off", I'll be more receptive.

      At the moment, the people asking that we "cool off" are those who are least likely to be subject to the kind of unacceptable abuse that Officer Crowley subjected Professor Gates to.

      Let Officer Crowley make a publicly-announced appearance and stand, unescorted and unarmed, in Sennott Park or Dana Square before a group of local residents. Let him proclaim, in that setting, that there is no need to apologize for his treatment of Professor Gates or that CPD has no need to examine its treatment of minorities. When the residents of those neighborhoods share his assessment, then I'll be more inclined to agree that we should let all this pass.

      The behavior of Officer Crowley after Professor Gates had identified himself was an outrage. President Obama's initial assessment was the more accurate -- the CPD acted "stupidly" in arresting Professor Gates.

      The Boston Police Department has killed two innocents in recent years -- with no substantive disciplinary action taken. Area police departments disrupted construction sites in response to efforts to curtail detail overtime -- with no disciplinary action. The disability and pension abuses of Boston-area police and fire departments are rampant.

      In my view, this sorry episode is emblematic of a deep and growing attitude of entitlement, arrogance, and simple thuggery on the part of too many police departments. The lock-step defense of indefensible behavior is a symptom of deeper insecurity.

      There is too little distinction, in my view, between these attitudes and the similar dehumanization that leads us to cavalierly pull "suspected terrorists" from airport lines and kidnap suspected "enemy combatants" without charges, process, or oversight.

      • Keep it up

        Keep picking the scab for your own entertainment.   Did you even read the editorial?  Could you put down your own baggage for a minute and take the time to read the editorial of a man with a 25-year history living IN the city of Cambridge and experience of the CPD?  Are you really going to justify keeping this thing kindling so you can examine not only police misconduct of the entire greater Boston area, but tossing in pension, overtime and detail abuse? Oh, and also federal TSA abuses gets tossed into the mix.  

        What's the matter - no kitchen sink?  Or is that too heavy to toss from your own high horse?

        • Of course I read the editorial

          I usually agree with Derrick Jackson. I think he's wrong this time.

          It seems to me that you are the one so burdened with your "baggage" that you seem terrified to actually bring these issues to the light of day. There is another side to the glowing praise that you seem so eager to heap on the CPD -- a side that you seem desperate to keep hidden.

          You seem eager to view the CPD in isolation. When a CPD blows through a red light in Boston or, for that matter, in Springfield, what do you think happens when he or she shows his ID to the officer making the traffic stop? When Boston cops disrupt a construction in, say, Woburn, do you think they get treated the same way as John Q. Public doing the same thing?

          It's all part of the same arrogant, authoritarian I'm-a-cop-and-you're-not culture that strives to separate those on top from those underneath. I'm not surprised that those on top -- like you, apparently -- are eager to see the whole thing quietly disappear.

          I'm not sure minority and young adult residents around Sennott Park or Dana Square feel the same way.

          Maybe it's time we listened to them for a change.

          • And you're so eager

            to paint this particular cop into something he's not.  In order to prove your point, you want to burden him down with the sins of all the cops who went before him.  And that's wrong.  This isn't that guy.  So unless you have inside knowledge about this particular cop, then treat him like the individual that he is....you know, like the way you'd like to be treated.  This particular man - is not the entire police force in the nation.  As Mr. Jackson has pointed out:

            Crowley should never have arrested Gates for being upset at lingering police presence in his home, having proved it was his. But Crowley's history is that he's not a rogue policeman. Gates calling him one on national TV Wednesday blurred the line between the act and the man.

            When I was a kid, I hung around Rosie Towers.  I am no stranger to the streets.  Whatever I carry - is from years of living and working with people of all colors, classes, stripes and persuasions.  My family is decidedly blue collar and I am the first member of my family to earn a degree.  I don't need to burnish my street cred by making something into something it's not.  Mr. Jackson's on target.  Perhaps the air in Brookline is a little too rarified for you to be able to understand this.  But the continued harping on this - when even the president and the principle parties have backed away from  previous statements...leads me to think you have your own agenda here.  

            • Officer Crowley and the CPD are painting themselves

              I'm treating him like a cop who arrested a man in his own home, after the man's identity and rightful presence was already verified. I'm treating him like a cop who, after the fact, refuses to back down from his stupid behavior. I'm treating the CPD like a police department who refuses to acknowledge (except to drop the utterly bogus charges against Professor Gates) that it was their own stupid behavior that created this fiasco.

              Please note that I'm not saying that Officer Crowley or the CPD are "stupid". I am saying that their behavior in and after this episode has been stupid.

              I don't care one iota about your "street cred". You are making your own assumptions about my "agenda" based on the fact that I live in Brookline. The "air" in Brookline has just as much authoritarian stench as anywhere else -- I've already cited the disgraceful treatment given Arthur Conquest by the Brookline PD twice in the last week.

              The principal parties to this are people of color and people without power -- a fact that you continue to try and sweep under your "street cred" carpet. In my view, it is you who is "making [this] into something it's not."

              It is an insecure, alpha-male, authoritarian police department who bit off more than they can chew and are now furiously asserting their innocence. It is a case where the police went far overboard in abusing their "discretion", and are now acutely embarrassed by the consequences.

              How many times do you think incidents like this play out where the victim is not a friend of the President?

              Of course you want everyone to chill out and move on. I am, on the other hand, quite happy to see -- for once -- this offensively aggressive display of power spotlighted for just exactly what it is.

              As I said earlier, when Officer Crowley makes an appearance in some of the grittier Cambridge parks, where the usually-powerless folks on the bottom have a chance to have their say, then I'll be more receptive to moving on.

              • The title of the editorial was

                "all right, everybody, let's cool off."  I think the writer, AS A RESIDENT, had an important point to make.  He was very articulate in defining how he viewed this unfortunate occurrence.  You don't think so...you find value in keeping this going.  I get it.  But I don't agree with you.  You assign to police (everywhere) certain characteristics...where I see individuals.  You want this particular officer to atone for the excesses (in your view) of police everywhere.  I don't see how that helps.  This officer is NOT the guy you're making him out to be.  Even the president has called him an "exemplary officer."  

                • This discussion is crucial

                  In my view, the discussion about this episode is a crucial one. It isn't about anybody "atoning" for anything, it is about the stark difference between the way minorities and whites are treated by police. It's about recognizing the same simmering anger that boiled over into the "long hot summer" riots of the sixties and early seventies.

                  When an "exemplary officer" does things like this a stone's throw from Harvard Square, what do you think happens in the poorer neighborhoods -- those neighborhoods that you so studiously avoid acknowledging, with not-so-exemplary cops?

                  I do, however, have a prediction. I predict that this episode will end with Professor Gates and Officer Crowley doing a nationwide tour, sort of a James Carville/Mary Matalin act, to raise awareness of the racial issues that still polarize us. Perhaps as part of a promotion for the documentary that Professor Gates has already said he'll do.

                  I'll bet the two of them could make that appearance in Dana Park that I talked about, I bet the residents would welcome it, and that's when I'll agree that it's time to move towards productive what-is-our-next-step discussions about this.

                  • It is crucial

                    to have the discussion, but it's also important to bring a measured and thoughtful framework to it. You have been all to willing to make this particular "exemplary" officer a scape goat for all local, state and federal police wrongdoing....long after the president, and just about everyone else had decided that cooler heads should have prevailed that day - on both sides.    And I haven't "studiously" avoided acknowledging any neighborhoods - I hung around in North Cambridge as a kid, so I don't feel quite so compelled to neighborhood name drop.  That's what "barnies" do.  

                    I think this thing is a very complicated issue; this isn't just race per se, but also class and let's be honest, some serious testosterone.  I don't think demonizing one over the other is the way to get to a useful and productive critical discussion.  Making the Sgt. stand in a park, with hat and mea culpas in hand may make you feel better...but it won't get us where we need to be.    

                    • I guess we'll have to just agree to disagree

                      I'm glad we agree that the discussion is crucial.

                      Not surprisingly, I disagree with your characterization of my comments, nor do I share your feeling that I am "demonizing" anybody.

                      In particular, I think that having "[Officer Crowley] stand in a park, with hat and mea culpas in hand" -- especially if accompanied by Professor Gates -- will get us precisely where we need to be. I'm sorry that you disagree so strongly.

    • More of a diversion?

      Oh, that the media would foist real civil rights issues upon the public.  What if they would galvanize the public for liberty, peace and well-being?  Well, it's nice to think that they would.

      • I don't think anyone going thru Tenaha was Ivy League.

        I remember when Reagan was prez and found that black prisoners were being waterboarded (tortured?)to confess to crimes and sent the Justice Dept. out to prosecute.  What passed for law enforcement in that racket went behind bars.  Nobody in Tenaha need worry as long as they don't snag an Ivy League bud of the prez.  

        Feel short-changed?

  2. okay but

    Good to have the facts, but do you really want to double (triple!) down on the word "stupid" at this point?

    Making the police, and as always public sector unions, an enemy in the progressive worldview is a short-sighted mistake. It's not a betrayal of the minority perspective to take a more measured approach to this incident. That's what Obama and Gates are doing now.

  3. Alan McDonald

    is smart, honest, and has devoted his career to the representation of working people and their unions.  I think you need to do a little more "digging" before you mouth off about him.

    • Mouth off?

      Interesting choice of words, considering how all this got started.  

      Maybe Alan McDonald is the finest, most honorable lawyer in history, at the moment he was lying about the history of the Cambridge PD and race on national TV, and using that lie to call out the first minority President for daring to express an opinion, he was being neither smart nor honest.

      If you have any actual details or evidence to back up what you said, please share.

      • you don't know what you're talking about

        You presume to know that he was lying and use that presumption to slander a good man.  If you disagree with him, you ought, based on his career, to take into the account that he was mistaken, or misspoke.  But that doesn't fit your narrative.  Alan McDonald has an excellent reputation in the legal community.  You call him a liar, but you betray yourself.  He didn't call out "the first minority President for daring to express an opinion."  He challenged (called out if you like) President Obama for expressing an opinion after stating clearly that he didn't know what he was talking about.  You would have done the same if it had been a Republican president:  it was a stupid thing to do.

        Among the reasons I hate Republicans is their inability to depart from their received "wisdom."  I'm seeing that on the left around this case, and it's very disturbing.

        • Did you actually read what my criticism of McDonald was?

          Because it was deliberately narrow and specific.  As you say, he did challenge the President for stating that he didn't have all the facts.  That's not what this post was about, but since you brought it up, I think that's a valid point.  And since Obama did actually say that, an honest and accurate one too.  However, after making that point, Attorney McDonald goes on to say,  "And second and more important the President suggested that somehow, at least implied, there was a link between what happened here and the history of problems between persons of color and law enforcement.  And while that well is true in some localities it isn't true Cambridge."

          Here is the video so you can see for yourself, it's near the end at 3:30 to go.  It's quiet clear this isn't a slip of the tongue, and he even says it's more important than the point you referred to:

          That's the statement by McDonald I am talking about and that statement is completely false, because there has, in fact, been a lengthy, well known, and well documented history of problems between people of color and law enforcement in Cambridge.  There has even been a lengthy, well known, and well documented history of problems of people of color and law enforcement within law enforcement in Cambridge.  As I said in the original post, McDonald has to be either woefully uninformed about the history of the department he is representing, or he is deliberately lying.  To clarify, I guess I should have been more clear in my above response to your comment that I don't actually presume to know if this lie about the history of Cambridge PD was told deliberately or just a lie told through ignorance.

          You clearly have strong feelings about McDonald and like him a lot.  I'll concede I don't know much about him other than that press conference, which I was definitely not impressed by.  But I also know 20 minutes in front of the cameras isn't be the full measure of a man.  Seriously, if want to share some specifics or proof of the great things you feel so strongly that he's done, please do.  

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